Monday, August 1, 2016

Close Encounters of the Pat Summitt Kind (the actual Pat Summitt encounter won't make it into print until after tonight's prequel, which will be some time tomorrow)

Since practically everyone else in the U.S. is telling stories of his or her personal encounters with Pat Summitt, I may as well tell my own.

I attended one session of Pat Summitt's or the University of Tennessee's girls' basketball camp. All I know is that it was held on the University of Tennessee campus and Pat Summitt was present.  So was her son part of the time. I recall that some of the girls physically swooned over him, but I failed to comprehend quite what was his allure in their eyes. He was nice enough, though. How it happened that I even ended up there was a bit of a flukish occurrence. My brother and I had been given, for four straight years, free tuition to my uncle's (my mom's brother's) tennis camp. It was our annual Christmas/birthday gift from my uncle and his wife.

After fulfilling his six years or whatever was the requirement following graduating from the U.S. military academy he attended, where he played tennis, he got a job at some podunk fundy college in the sticks coaching tennis and teaching God knows what. (I'm pretty sure it wan't ethics.)  He gradually worked his way up to respectability with a head coaching position at a Division I school. Someone along the way clued him in to the idea that big bucks were to be made by running a summer tennis camp for a month or so every year. The head coach (my uncle) would make his token appearance -- usually between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and noon each morning, which was late enough for his hangover to have abated at least enough for him to appear functional but, just as the sun rose high in the sky, it was time for him to make his exit. Other than my uncle's cameo appearance for two hours a day (plus or minus transportation time to and from the local watering hole), the camp was run by assistants and underpaid flunkies. 

I'm not complaining about the assistants and underpaid flunkies. They were probably far more qualified to run the camp than my uncle was, and definitely were far more sober, and we had fun with them. My brother and I attended a two-week session each summer,starting the year we were seven-and-one-half. The minimum age was eight, but we knew the owner/director of the camp, and as far as he was concerned, rules were made to be broken. 

We spent six hours per day doing conditioning drills, skill drills, or actually playing tennis. The remainder of the time was spent in a variety of recreational activities including swimming, canoeing, playing card games with campers and staff members  in which money changed hands, sitting around doing nothing, and visiting the incredibly well-stocked snack bar. One thing my uncle or someone on his staff deduced was that homesickness and a stomach full of sugar are mutually exclusive conditions. A hyperglycemic camp was a happy camp, provided that no one in attendance was a bona fide diabetic.

We also had night activities. One night every session was devoted to a talent contest. I won the freaking contest (and have the trophies at at my parents' home to prove it) all four years that I attended simply by dislocating both my arms at the elbows, then putting them back into place by myself.  (I can still do it, by the way. Professor Larry Bakman didn't believe me when I said I could do it, so I had to show him, He very nearly had a Cerebrovascular Accident. He probably did have another kind of accident.) One would think that act might have gotten old after the third year or so, but due to slightly different audiences and the combined low IQs of the repeat attenders, I continued to bring home first prize trophy each year, which came with a twenty-five dollar credit at the cmp snack bar.  Incidentally, the kids voted to select the winners. There were no adult judges. I'm reasonably certain there wasn't a single Rhodes Scholar, or even a graduate student, on the entire staff, but I'd like to hope even among the slightly dull-witted adults and older teens we had teaching and supervising us, they wouldn't have been so stupid as to award a grand prize in a talent contest to a girl who could dislocate both of her arms at the elbow, then put them back into place by herself. Then again, the talent in that contest may have been so lame that I possibly deserved the top prize. I heard one of the counselors describe it as the "No-Talent Contest." The trophies all just said "Talent Contest: First Prize." My parents probably assumed I played the piano. If they'd had a clue that I was dislocating my elbows, I probably wouldn't have elbows anymore.

Anyway, the birthday/Christmas that I Matt and I turned eleven, we received the usual certificates that would grant us tuition-free admission to my uncle's camp. My parents usually scheduled  kid-free vacations for themselves during this time, so it was a win-win situation as they saw it.  Then, somewhere midway through the spring, my uncle reneged on my half of the summer tennis camp scholarship. A well-known young female tennis player would be unable to compete that summer due to an injury of some sort. My uncle hired her to work at his summer camp, and enrollment forms from female applicants began to arrive faster than they could be processed.  My uncle had even raised the tuition rate by five hundred dollars, and he still had more applicants than he could accommodate. I was his niece and he loved me, but was his love for me worth $1,600 dollars? No.

My uncle could just have told my parents the straight story. They would have thought he was slimy and mercenary, but they probably already thought that about hi. Instead, he came up with the ludicrous idea that he and his staff had, after careful analysis with  an exercise physiologist, determined that my body was ill-suited for tennis. A better sport for my body's particular strengths would be  (drumroll, please) /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/ BASKETBALL!  My uncle had located a basketball camp that would be perfect for me. Because it was a gift, he would pay for it, except that it was so very expensive that he would be unable to cover the final $625 (or some similar amount). He would complete the application for my parents, they would give him their check for $625 made out to him, and my uncle (who would then put the balance on his own credit card and  probably try to pass it off as a donation to the University of Tennessee Athletics Department and get a tax deduction out of it) because of his close association with Pat Summitt (the two of them probably once sat at the same table in a bar during an NCAA convention of some sort; maybe she knew his name, and maybe she didn't; one always had to read between the lines when trying to make sense of any story told by my uncle), could virtually guarantee my acceptance into Pat Summitt's basketball camp.

You know as well as I do, of course, that the total cost for attending Pat Summitt's camp was probably either $625 or less than the amount quoted by my uncle. My uncle may actually have turned a small profit on the deal. in any event, my parents needed babysitting for me, and they didn't want me staying in Utah with relatives for the entire two weeks. What happened while I was there just for nine days was bad enough, but that's another story.

As far as my having the ideal body type and physical skill set for basketball . . . I remember the physical form that a doctor (my father in my case) had to fill out. He measured me against the door frame using a tape measure, and noted that I was four feet, six inches tall. He groaned, then smiled. "I'll record your height in centimeters. They're basketball coaches," he reasoned aloud. "They're MAYBE one step above  CAL-TRANS workers (who maintain all state funded roadways in California and do so in the most inefficient manner imaginable) in intelligence quotient rankings. Probably not a single one of 'em'll even know what '137.16 centimeters'  means."  (One of Pat Summitt's assistants for the summer was completing a dissertation as a final requirement in fulfillment of a doctorate in quantum physics. So much for my father and his stereotypes. 

Dad groaned even more loudly after having me step on the digital bathroom scale. "This has gotta be off,' he muttered as he looked at illuminated 42.1 staring back  at him. "Put your shoes on," e told me.

"I'm already wearing shoes," I answered, not having a clue as to what he meant.

"No," he specified. "Go into your closet and get some real shoes. Find your hiking boots  and put 'em on. Better still, go into my closet. Find my hiking boots and put those on."

I found what appeared to be his hiking boots and, not even bothering to take my tennies off,  slid my feet into his boots. "She has footwork that is evidence of a skill set that any exercise physiologist, even blind-folded, would have to consider a perfect fit for the game of basketball, wouldn't you say?" he queried my mom as I stumbled and tripped my way back to the master bathroom in the oversized shoes. "Has your brother ever met an exercise physiologist?" he asked my mom, "and if he has, what do you think are the odds that the guy, or woman, or whoever this exercise physiologist is, and however dubious his or her credentials might be, has ever lain eyes on Alexis?"

"Not likely and slim," my mother answered.

"Huh?" my dad queried.

"In response to your questions, I think it's not very likely my brother has ever met an exercise physiologist, unless some guy in a bar claimed to be an exercise physiologist who could have been anything from an insurance salesman to an out-of-work life coach, and even if this real or pseudo-legitimate exercise physiologist exists, the chances that he's ever seen Alexis are slim to none." 

My dad was momentarily speechless. My mom rarely agreed with him with quite so little effort on his part.

My dad smiled at my having kept my own shoes on under his shoes. "You're smarter than you look," he told me in one of his double-sided compliments as I once gain stepped upon the scale. This time, with my dad's hiking boots over my tennis shoes,  the digital reading was a whopping 44 pounds.
"This scale has to be off. Eleven-year-olds don't weigh 44 pounds," he muttered before stepping on the scale himself.  The number glaring back at him was 151. 

"It doesn't look all that far off to me, " my mom chimed in. Since he and my mom had married, Dad's weight had remained consistently between 149 and 152. At 6'0" and with a lanky frame, my dad's weight was about as unchanging as Mt. Rushmore since it had been chiseled into place. (I think I neglected to mention before that Matthew, my brother, actually believed until he was maybe fourteen that the carved features of Mt. Rushmore had been there since whenever God or the glacial effects of the Ice Age had carved them, which could have been anywhere between six thousand and billions of years old, depending upon one's view of religion and the brand of science or pseudo-science to which one subscribed. "This just proves The Almighty God as the literal creator of the world!" Matthew proclaimed upon seeing the formation in person for the first time."Who else other than God could ever have known that every single one these guys would eventually have become president. This by itself proves the existence of God and of God's literal creation of the world!"  The chills running down Matthew's spine were almost palpable as my mom whispered to my dad, "Maybe at least one member of our family won't end up in hell."  My parents and I looked at each other sideways from the corners of our eyes. Matthew would have to be told the truth eventually, but no one wanted to clue him in right then, just as it would seem to be cruel to announce the nature and symbolism of Santa Claus on a Christmas morning as a child was enraptured with his latest haul of loot from jolly old St. Nick.) I apologize for my rather lengthy digression, the main point of which was -- I think, anyway -- that  it wasn't my scanty footwear, and it wasn't the poorly calibrated scale, causing numbers that caused me to appear to be clinically underweight. I was clinically underweight.  

"Oh well, we'll say it's 20 kilograms and call it good. So she's skinny. That's supposed to be good for basketball."

"Unless they're trying to group girls according to height and weight,' my mom contended,  "in which case   Alexis won't fit in anywhere in their program. (It was the story of my life -- not fitting in anywhere -- so what else i that regard was new for me?)

"Or unless," my Uncle Steve contributed, who had dropped by our house on his way home from work, "they take one look at Alexis and wonder what the hell she's doing at a basketball camp. You probably need to at least send along a copy of her birth certificate as evidence that you're not trying to pass an eight-year-old off as old enough to be in attendance at the camp. They'll still wonder why she's there, but at maybe they won't think you're trying to pull a fast one on them by sending your underage kid there for free babysitting."

"Do you have any interest in basketball camp, or even in basketball, Alexis?" my mom asked.

"I'm not disinterested in it," I answered her. Whatever this basketball camp entailed, it would probably be better than spending two solid weeks in Utah with my relatives.  It might be fin -- i might even have a snack bar -- it might offer six nights of relative boredom, but chances are that I would spend little if any of the basketball camp time reading the Book of Mormon or learning about how families could be forever together through Heavenly Father's plan, but how mine probably wouldn't be through the collective iniquity of my nuclear family unit. It was hardly even a choice to make where I was concerned: bring on the basketball!

Before my parents put me on a plane from Sacramento to Knoxville , Tennessee (with one stop in Charlotte, North Carolina), my dad thought he should educate me about the region of the country I was about to visit. "Alexis, have you ever heard of the movie Deliverance?' he asked me.

"Is it the one with those dueling banjos? Like this? Dud-duh-duh    duh duh   
duh duh duh duh," I hummed to him.

"Yes, that's the one,' he answered

"I never saw the movie," I told him. "I have no idea about any part of it except for some boats or canoes traveling down a river, and people in the boats playing bits of that melody back and forth to each other, almost like they were competing."

"We'll, I guess that was part of it," he told me. Some of the people in the boats were traveling through the area and they played those snippets of music. The people living along the edges of the river were musically talented."

"Like us?" I perked up.

"Well, yes and no," he answered as my mom walked into the room as I was packing. "Cut the Deliverance talk, John. You're going to give her nightmares."

"It's fiction, Alexis," she said turning to me. "The movie is a work of fiction, based on a novel. What is a novel, Alexis?

"A work of fiction," I answered.

"Exactly," she continued. "Pat Summit's parents are not related to one another other than  being married. I'm sure the same is true of everyone else you'll meet there, many of whom will not even be from Tennessee. Just get all these inbred hillbilly notions out of your head."

"I suppose you don't even want me to teach her 'Rocky Top' "  my dad complained.

"Is it necessary?" my mom asked.

"She might stand out like a sore thumb if she doesn't know it," he contended.

"She might stand out like a sore thumb no matter what we do or don't do," my mom elaborated.

"Fine," my mom ceded. "As long as you're not teaching her that she's going to find herself in the middle of a pack of hillbillies who make her squeal like a pig and tell her how pretty her mouth is, teaching her a simple song is probably harmless."

My thought was that it was probably every bit as useless as it was harmless, but as long as it wouldn't give me nightmares, I would learn my dad's dumb song. He went to the living room to grab a guitar, which he quickly tuned.

"Wish that I was on ol' Rocky Top, way in the Tennessee Hills. Ain't no smoky smog in Rocky Top, ain't no telephone bills," he sang in the most hillbillified voice imaginable. I was, at that moment, embarrassed to share DNA with him.

"Can't you just sing the words and melody of the song without pretending to be the love child of Conway Twitty and his aunt?" I whined. My mom laughed.

"Fine, but you're missing the full effect, " he conceded as he continued to sing. "Once there was a girl in Rocky Top; Half bear, the other half cat. Wild as mink and sweet as soda pop; I still dream about that.

"Rocky Top, you'll always be home sweet home to me. Good ol' Rocky Top! [spoken or howled;Wooo!]Rocky Top, Tennessee! Rocky Top, Tennessee!

"Once two strangers climbed on Rocky Top, lookin' for a mountain still. Strangers ain't come back from Rocky Top. Guess they never will.

"Corn won't grow at all on Rocky Top. Dirt's too rocky by far. That's why all the folks from Rocky Top get their corn from a jar.

"Rocky Top, you'll always be  home, sweet home to me. Good ol' Rocky Top. [Wooo!]Rocky Top, Tennessee. Rocky Top, Tennessee."

"There's more, but that's probably all you have to know," he ended.

"Thank God, " I whispered under my breath.

"Now we need to sing it together. You really need to know this song,' Dad pleaded.

"Why must I know this song?" I asked.

"It's one of their school songs," Dad explained. "It's probably the most important one." If this was the most importnt song at the University of Tennessee, I had serious qualms about the quality of education any student might be receiving there. That was not my problem. I was only going there for a week-long basketball camp. I would, however, file the information away in my mind for recall a few years later when I would be looking for universities in which to enroll for academic studies. Furthermore, I had grave doubts concerning the taste in music of those with which I might soon be surrounded. 

"Come on, Erin, " my Dad said. "Sing it with me. Let her hear the harmony."

My mom sighed and rolled her eyes, but joined in the verse with my dad and harmonized with him on the refrain. It was bad enough that my dad could sing it, but the fact that my mother, whom I had previously known as somewhat refined, could sing this Okiefied hillbilly anthem was almost more than I could tolerate. Perhaps I'd been lucky enough to bypass some of their more heteroclite genetics, but what might this mean for the future of any offspring I might produce? Or maybe had my parents brought the wrong baby home from the hospital?

"Ok. Now sing it with us!" my dad commanded with enthusiasm. The melody was simple, the text was far from Homeric in its complexity, and I found that I could sing the all words with the melody by the second time through it, though enjoying it would have been another matter entirely.

My clothes were packed, my check-off list was checked off, and we  (my mom, dad, and myself) were in a family car and on our way to the airport.
I reached from my space in the back seat to turn on the radio. My dad lightly slapped my hand. "Don't touch that!" he ordered, though not in as grumpy a tone as he might ordinarily have used. "I have a CD."

I could have guessed the CD. It was a homemade collection of various artists' versions of "Rocky Top," which we practiced all the way to the airport.

My parents were able to park close enough that we could walk while pulling my luggage instead of waiting around for a tram.  My baggage was checked, and my parents walked me to the security point. I was introduced to the employee who would accompany me to my flight because  I was not old enough to travel alone without an airline chaperone at each checkpoint.

My parents and I hugged and kissed good-bye. My mom had one last direction for me. "Alexis, don't forget to make your bed each day." We had been told to bring bedding rather than sleeping bags to go onto the dorm beds.

"I always make my bed!" I reminded her.

"That's great," she agreed. "Just continue to do it. This is no time to stop."

The actual encounter will follow soon.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Here is Dueling Banjos from the movie Deliverance for your enjoyment:

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  4. Gurin's Digital Bathroom Scale is really a money worthy item and very good to use.